Verklereen grappling with success
Belle Vernon Area freshman Jarod Verkleeren will look to make a name for himself on the international wrestling stage this summer.
Verkleeren qualified for the FILA Cadet World Championships in Slovakia in July after dominating a stacked 63 kilogram (138.75 pounds) field at the FILA Cadet Freestyle Nationals May 24-25 in Akron, Ohio.
“It's pretty hard to describe,” Verkleeren said. “I can't really put it into words. I came in as the underdog, but I knew I could do it.
“I'm just thankful that my parents supported me. My mom really pushed me to go to the tournament and my dad helped with my training, or I wouldn't have been able to win.”
Verkleeren, who finished third in the WPIAL and qualified for the PIAA tournament at 145 pounds this season, went 9-0 with five technical falls (10 points or more) and a pin against a list of competitors that featured three state champions.
The national tournament drew the best wrestlers born between 1997 and 1999 and was staged under FILA rules and weight classes, which are used in the Olympics and other international events. They differ from those used in United States scholastic wrestling.
FILA is a French acronym for wrestling's international governing body.
“I definitely prefer freestyle,” Verkleeren said. “It's just easier for me. Everything flows easier, and it definitely fits my style of wrestling. But I didn't really understand how big and how tough the tournament would be until my first match, which I almost lost at the end.”
Verkleeren's first match was also his closest; a 4-3 victory over Nate Hagan, a junior and state champion at 132 pounds in Ohio's Division 2. He followed that with a pin and technical falls over opponents from Minnesota, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin to make the finals.
In the sixth round, Verkleeren defeated Penn Trafford freshman and 132-pound Pennsylvania AAA champion Cameron Coy by a 12-1 technical fall.
“We practice together sometimes,” Verkleeren said of Coy. “So we kind of know what the other is going to do. But I knew there was no way he could beat me. I'm bigger than him, but I don't cut weight. For this tournament I cut the weight, and that made a big difference against him.”
In the finals, Verkleeren defeated heavily favored sophomore Austin Kraisser, a Maryland state champion at 145 pounds, 5-1.
“I watched (Pennylvania's) Gavin Teasdale and Spencer Lee go out and dominate their guys in the finals,” Verkleeren said, “and I wanted to do the same and join them on the World Team.”
The FILA World Championships will be July 15 to 20 in Snina, Slovakia, and will draw the best young wrestlers in the world, all of whom won their respective national tournaments.
Verkleeren said he is excited, but doesn't really know what to expect.
“I can't wait,” Verkleeren said. “I'm going to go to some more camps and keep training this summer to prepare for it, but I'm not really sure how its going to go.
“I want to do well, but everybody who is out there is really good and wants to win. But I really just want to go out there and enjoy the experience; it should be a lot of fun. If I do well, that's a bonus.”
Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer.